• 48°

FEMA director: Changes will strengthen hurricane response

FEMA will have a stronger hurricane response this year because of changes in its policies for victim identification, debris removal and housing, agency Director Dave Paulison said Wednesday.

Paulison, who took the job in September after Director Michael Brown stepped down amid criticism for the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina, compared the work at the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “taking over the Titanic after it hit the iceberg,” he said Wednesday at the three-day Alabama-Mississippi Hurricane Workshop for federal, state and county officials.

But the changes for this year, he said, should improve and strengthen the agency’s response.

FEMA has hired ChoicePoint, an Atlanta company, to determine the eligibility of people seeking aid. The change is aimed at preventing the type of fraud widely reported after Katrina. The agency also plans to reduce the amount of money given to victims from $2,000 per family to $500, the Press-Register reported.

If the United States is hit by a major hurricane this year, FEMA plans to find temporary housing beforehand to accommodate anyone whose home is lost. It also plans to pay the rent upfront, instead of having people or local government pick up the tab with the promise of reimbursement later, Paulison said. That change is an effort to avoid reimbursement problems seen last year.

Also, the federal government will no longer guarantee 100 percent reimbursement of debris clean up costs by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The new reimbursement rate will be either 75 percent or 90 percent, the same as other debris removal work, he said.

This is an effort to prevent local governments from heavily relying on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It’s also a change to encourage officials to have emergency debris removal contracts in place before a hurricane hits, he said.

FEMA also plans to increase its supplies by quadrupling the amount of ice and tripling its supply of ready-to-eat meals, Paulison said.

The agency has also bought 20,000 global positioning satellite tracking devices that will allow them to always know the location of supply trucks.

Paulison also urged residents to make their own preparations. He said people in hurricane-prone areas should have the supplies needed to survive for 72 hours without electricity.